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Film Review: All the King's Men

Updated on February 2, 2016
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1949, Robert Rossen released All the King’s Men, based on the Robert Penn Warren novel of the same name. Starring Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek, Mercedes McCambridge, Shepperd Strudwick, Ralph Demke, and Anne Seymour, the film grossed $2.4 million at the box office as well as in US Rentals. Winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, making it the last Best Picture winner to be based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it also won for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Film Editing. There was also a 2006 film starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo.


Willie Stark gets into politics and fights against the corruptly run county government, but loses his bid for county treasurer. However, he teaches himself law, becomes a lawyer and rises to become the governor. But he soon finds himself as corrupt as the politicians he fought against and finds that not everyone can be bought off.


All the King’s Men is a pretty interesting film in the manner of its point of view as well, seeing as the way the story told is engagingly told through the eyes of the reporter, Jack Burden. All the events that unfold are told through his perspective rather than the perspective of Stark, which makes for interesting storytelling as the audience isn’t getting the point of view that Stark has, but is instead being shown how Burden would report on Stark’s doings. And what’s more is that the film starts off idealistically as Burden is enthralled with and admires Stark, but as the story unfolds and Stark becomes more and more of a dirty politician, the film starts to become more and more cynical, but still a little bit hopeful because of Burden. He’s growing more and more disillusioned with Stark and what he’s turning/turned into, but is sticking by him because he has hope for the man. The film’s point of view going through the eyes of someone close to the main character rather than through the main character makes for an intriguing journey as it feels like the driving force of the film’s tone is a result of how the surrounding atmosphere is affected by the direct actions of Stark as opposed to it being driven by Stark’s actions and then seeing how the atmosphere is affected.

And then there’s the central theme of how Stark changes as the film progresses. The man starts off as this wide-eyed idealist that believes he can bring down his opponent and crush the government corruption. It even went beyond his personality as he never even drank before his first campaign for governor. However, it all becomes a quick subversion as Stark himself becomes the very thing that he fought against for in the first place due to him realizing that he can’t become governor without doing so. And then he continues to justify himself and defend his illegal and unconstitutional actions because a lot of good things for the state have come from what he’s done. And even then he contends that people make up their own morality as they go along.

And the personal relationships that are affected by Stark also warrant mentioning as they eventually do lead to his downfall. He starts philandering with other women, including the daughter of a judge, who starts to discredit Stark’s reputation. In doing that, Stark does the same to the judge who eventually commits suicide. And because he did that, his son assassinates Stark, and the assassin is killed by Stark’s assistant. It shows that a person’s actions don’t merely happen in a vacuum, that other people are affected by them, and that there are consequences. Said consequences don't all happen immediately either as sometimes it takes a while for the dominoes to catch up with each other. Further, it shows that there is a continual chain reaction that comes with grievous actions such as philandering, blackmail and murder.

4 stars for All the King's Men

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion


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